Group G includes three serious candidates for an automatic berth at the FIFA World Cup Brazil 2014™. Two-time participants Greece, a Slovakia side who made their finals debut in South Africa last summer, and Bosnia-Herzegovina will all feel they have an excellent chance of claiming a place at Brazil 2014. However, Lithuania and Latvia represent very awkward so-called minnows, who are always capable of springing a surprise. In fact, the only real outsiders in this evenly-matched section are Liechtenstein.
On paper at least, Greece, Slovakia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina are the clear candidates for the top two spots in the group. Experience could end up as the decisive factor: it was certainly the crucial attribute the Bosnians lacked in the last FIFA World Cup qualifying competition, when they were edged out by Portugal in the play-offs. By contrast, a lack of pressure was Slovakia’s trump card last time out – not just in qualifying, but also in South Africa, where the newcomers made it to the last 16. All in all, a tense finish is all but guaranteed in what may well be the most open group of them all.
Latvia: It is bound to be tough for Liechtenstein, Lithuania and Latvia in this section. Of the three, the Latvians are the only nation with previous experience of a major tournament after their appearance at UEFA EURO 2004 in Portugal, where their best result was a goalless draw with Germany.
Lithuania: They roared off the blocks in the last FIFA World Cup qualifying competition with victories over Romania and Austria, but the men from the Baltic faded after that and even ended up creating unwanted history with their 2-1 defeat away to the Faroes, the Nordic islanders’ first-ever qualifying victory.
Players to watch
Georgios Karagounis, Georgios Samaras, Ioannis Fetfatzidis (GRE), Marek Hamsik, Martin Skrtel (SVK), Edin Dzeko, Miralem Pjanic, Zvjezdan Misimovic (BIH)
The crunch match
The meetings between Greece and Slovakia are sure to have a critical bearing on who books the coveted automatic berth at the FIFA World Cup 2014 in Brazil. On the long road to South Africa, the Greeks contrived to lose both top-billing matches against Switzerland (2-1 and 2-0) and were forced to secure their place via the play-offs. They will want to avoid that fate this time round. Slovakia also lost both matches against their direct rivals Slovenia in qualifying for the FIFA World Cup 2010, but only dropped a single point in their remaining fixtures and just beat the Slovenians to the tape. However, the two leading candidates will ignore Bosnia-Herzegovina at their peril, as the team’s individual class could easily make the difference.
A look back
Greece qualified for the global showdown for the first time in 1994. Drawn in a group also featuring Russia, Iceland, Hungary and Luxembourg, the Greeks just edged out the Sbornaja at the end. In reaching last summer’s finals in South Africa, the men in blue and white squeezed home with a 1-0 aggregate victory over Ukraine in the play-offs. By contrast, Slovakia were automatic qualifiers for the 2010 tournament, finishing top of their section head of Slovenia, Czech Republic, Northern Ireland, Poland and San Marino.
4 – European Group G contains the most teams who have yet to qualify for the FIFA World Cup finals. Four of the nations - Bosnia-Herzegovina, Lithuania, Latvia and Liechtenstein – have never appeared at the global showdown.
Did you know?
Liechtenstein first entered qualifying for the FIFA World Cup in 1994, but only won their maiden point on 9 October 2004 with a 2-2 draw against Portugal. The first victory followed just four days later, a 4-0 win away to Luxembourg.
Have your say
Which of the Group G teams do you think will secure the automatic qualifying berth for Brazil 2014? Will Greece or Slovakia appear at the global showdown for the second time in a row, or will we see a new nation in the final line-up for Brazil?